The Last Visit

by susankda

Sometimes when you close the door, you say to yourself, I will never touch this knob again. Sometimes you know. You know when cardboard boxes are packed full with your belongings and your voice echoes through the empty rooms of a house, that you won’t be back. You know when you take one last look around your dorm, on your last day of your senior year; that you won’t be back. You know when you travel abroad and you stay in that nice little room in that quaint little hotel, that you probably won’t be back. I might have known that I would never see my sister or her house again when I pulled the door shut behind me some ten years ago, but the thought was buried deep under my denial. The kind of denial you need to stay sane. The kind of denial that allows you to believe that you’ll be back.

“See you at Christmas!” is what I would have been shouting over my shoulder on any normal summer visit to my sister’s house in far-away Chicago, but this was no normal visit, it was my last visit.

I wish I remembered what her house smelled like. Maybe it didn’t smell like anything at all. Maybe it smelled like tollhouse cookies, warm chocolate and brown sugar or maybe it smelled like her cat, Ricky. Ricky, who must have searched everywhere for my sister after she had gone, searched the white kitchen with its rooster plates and collection of mismatched teacups, the bedroom with her medicine bottles spilling from the bedside table onto the carpeted floor, the bathrooms where the wig and the walker and the bed pan would all sit abandoned, like Ricky, like the rest of us. Or maybe the house had smelled like impending death and Ricky already knew what we didn’t know and didn’t want to accept.

It was the last time I would ever step foot in my sister’s house and I forgot to look around, to take note of how she had lived there. I forgot to ask her the name of the color of paint on her parlor walls or where she found that little rug in the powder room. I forgot to appreciate once again the way she organized her linen closet or to find out what exactly she kept in those sweet hat boxes in the guest room closet, the ones with the lavender flowers that were tied shut with a wide grosgrain ribbon. I forgot to tell her how beautiful her garden was, the deep blue hydrangea and the fat orange roses that flanked the back porch door. I didn’t mention that the bed I slept in was soft and the sheets lovely and smooth, cool on my skin even in the heat of the July nights.

Sleep didn’t come easy in her house that summer but not because my sister hadn’t made her guest rooms so hospitable. No, sleep eluded us because she cried out sometimes. When she moved her pain became a moan that escaped through her mouth and sharp like a blade, it cut us to the bone, leaving us wounded and anxious in our own comfortable beds, braced for her next cry.

Beside her my brother-in-law may have propped pillows for her, adjusted her morphine soaked body on the Tempurpedic that burned the skin off of her back, her buttocks, her calves. Around her was all of the softness and beauty that she poured into her home over the years and none of us could feel it, could see it, could smell it. She had become all there was in that house. Her pain, her every breath, her moans, her smell of bed pans and diapers, the sight of her, small and white and withered.

No, there were no Tollhouse cookies baked the last time I went to my sister’s house. There were no farewells that included, “See you soon!” There was only denial.

The kind that causes you to shut the door behind you and not to look over your shoulder, to tell yourself that you’ll be back, to tell yourself a lie.